City’s Cultural Institutions Are about to Get a Report Card on Diversity

March 4, 2015 | Prachi Gupta

The city is working with an independent group to survey the diversity — or lack thereof — within New York’s cultural institutions.

Department of Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl has noticed that cultural organizations across the country are overwhelmingly white. But “if you’re living in a city like we are in New York — with 65 percent people of color right now — maybe we’re missing out on some of the talent if we don’t have diverse audiences, staffs and boards,” he told the New York Times. Finkelpearl wants to better understand the causes of that divide and then find ways to close the gap so that the arts become more accessible to New York’s increasingly diverse population.

The first step in this process is to get an accurate tally of the boards, staff and patrons of 1,200 city museums, orchestras, theaters and other organizations that receive city funding. The study will be conducted this summer.

But the results will not lead to quotas, nor are they intended to embarrass institutions, he explained:

“We’re not looking to be punitive,” Mr. Finkelpearl said. “We don’t want a moment when a list gets published that says, ‘Here are the least and most diverse organizations.’ The administration is committed to diversity as a general goal. We want to know by sector — what can we learn from how people develop audiences and staffs and boards, highlighting the positive, sharing best practices.”

However, it’s not clear what the city plans to do with the data once the survey is completed. “We’re not going to take any action at all until we have some answers,” he said.

(Photo: Thom Watson)